Reading is important. So is self improvement. This is why we just finished up a project all about both of these things. In the careers class that I’ve taken this year, there’s been two underlying themes, self improvement, and planning for your future. This recent project, I just finished was all about the first of those themes, self-improvement. In this project, we were tasked with reading a book that had something loosely to do with self improvement, and as our final project, creating an artifact that represented something you had learned in the book. The book I chose was outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The driving question for this project was “What do I need to know to move forward with lifelong learning and active citizenship?”. I think this project might be the first I’ve done with an “I” driving question. It shows how the lessons that we tried to gain from this project were much more personal.

The book I read for my self improvement book project, was Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell published in 2008. The main thesis of the book is that success is not a black and white miracle story, but instead should be looked at from a more complex perspective, considering people’s opportunities and culture more than anything. To look beyond an individual success, at the people and community behind them. This book offers to open your eyes to a wider more accurate perspective on success and how people achieve it. I think this book is highly approachable for almost all audiences. Particularly anyone who’s looking to do a little bit of thinking on success, or how to become successful. However this book is not a guide to success by any means. It’s much more just a conversation and thought starter on how success is achieved. It also suggests some societal changes that could be made to increase peoples opportunities for success, but no concrete steps to increasing personal success.

One of my biggest issues with Gladwell’s book is that during his analyzing of success, he often uses partially incorrect statistics, studies, or interviews to further his points. Multiple points in this book are backed up by weak choices of studies. With either small sample groups, or not enough studies to prove that a concept is a reproducible phenomenon, therefore making his theory weak. His theory on 10,000 hours needed for success and mastery is particularly contested, and I had even heard of it before reading the book. It’s controversy comes from being a specific study just done on one school group of violinists, and he applied it to all disciplines, and mastery as a concept. Malcolm Gladwell is not an expert in either sociology, psychology, or usage of scientific studies in general. He has a history degree and an extremely successful career in journalism. Meaning his true talent lies in his ability to tell stories.

One of this book’s biggest positives is that is a master class on entertaining and persuasive writing. Some of the best nonfiction writing I’ve ever read in my life in terms of entertainment, and I’m someone who gets very bored by non-fiction. This book shows you how to tell a story from multiple angles, and still allow it to sound complete in every way you tell it. It nails, the middle ground of sounding intelligent enough to hook people, but not enough to scare people away and intimidate them. It is truly a guide to writing an approachable and marketable book that will be interesting to most people, with some captivating writing.

Though I agree with Gladwell’s thesis, I simply don’t think it’s revolutionary, but I also don’t think that’s the point. A lot of people would probably have very similar, rational perspectives on success, if forced to think about it in a serious way, but people don’t. The miracle story of success being for geniuses only stops people from even considering other sides to the story. This book is not meant to change your life, or to make you a success, it’s supposed to make you think. I do think the book is flawed and very much let down by its research errors, and it would be a series of stronger arguments if the data backed them up. However, I also think that there is a place for approachable books that allow people to think, and try to explore new perspectives, and Gladwell’s book is one of the bast written out there.

In order to complete our final artifact, we had several milestones throughout the project to show that we had knowledge of our book. Both the author bio, which was a, in-depth biography of our author. And our book review, which was a condensed version of our thoughts on the book. Were assigned to force us into doing a little more research and thinking about our book, to not only prove we had read it, but to get our brains flowing a little when it came to our artifact. Both tasks involved quite a lot of information, and being concise with words. The author bio involved quite a lot of research, taking what you had found, and sorting through for the most relevant information to try and keep your bio concise. The book review, I found a little more difficult. I had plenty of ideas and opinions on the book, but not a ton of evidence to back it up. I think I did a pretty poor job at keeping track of quotes and specific stories in the book that I either liked or disliked. I recorded some of the questions the book left me with, and completely forgot to write down the part of the book that cause the question to be asked. I think this made my book of you a lot less strong, and it could’ve been, however I did go back and revise it to try and fix some of these problems. I think both these milestones were useful for expanding my knowledge and thinking about the book, but also practising the skill of concise writing. This is a skill I’m not particularly good at, as I’m not used to writing with word limits (this blog post is evidence) but I feel like these two milestones were excellent practice revising writing, and cutting useless words and sentences. And I managed to quite successfully convey my ideas in a limited amount of words.

Now for the summit of our project, I must talk about my artifact. Our artifact was supposed to convey what we had learned and found valuable from the book that we wanted to share with others, that also happened answer the driving question. Now I’m actually quite proud of my artifact. The idea was sitting in my head before we even finished the book review, and I thought it represented my ideas on the book well. The book talked a lot about how people’s success is more than The first look at it, that you see, and that successful people are supported by so many other things that occur in their life. Stuff like global timing, look, community, family,  ability to see opportunities and take them. This is why I think that the multi layered silhouette I created showed an initial viewpoint of limited information, and a secondary viewpoint that you gain from more thought and investigation into a topic. The words and images I chose to put on the silhouette were all about the two “stages” of success (the initial look, and the thought) that were shown in the book. I ended up quite liking my artifact, I went through several drafts to get to my final product, but I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. My only big issue with it was that it wasn’t really interactive enough. All my favourite projects that I got to see from my classmates, were those where you got to interact and be more engaged with the artifact. I also think it was too small, but that was more of a cardboard sourcing issue than anything.

Now I can’t lie to you. I went into this project with what some would call a bad attitude. I really didn’t like the idea of self help books, and I’m sure some of that comes from my parents dislike of them as well. I wasn’t very open minded to the concept, I even went out of my way to choose a book that wasn’t on the teachers list, one that I thought sounded a little less self helpy. And while I don’t think that this project converted me to the side of self help books, I can see that they truly made a positive impact on some of my classmates. Everyone had something that they took away that actually either helped them, or was useful to them in someway. Even though I didn’t particularly like my book, I still thought there was something to be gained from it, and I kept an open mind. It was beautifully written, and was a prime example of how to structure arguments. And it was an interesting, easily accessible book that encouraged people to think harder about the things that they see on a day-to-day basis. 

I think really one of the number one things I gained from this project in terms of being a lifelong learner, is you have to be open minded about new ideas and lessons. If you don’t care, you don’t engage in the media, and you don’t try to look for positives in the content you consume, you won’t find anything to learn. If my whole class had shut off, not taken this project seriously, and refused to look for things to learn in their books I’m sure they could’ve. But instead they looked for ideas they found helpful, and found lessons that they thought other people could benefit from, resulting in some really interesting projects on self improvement. As I move towards being a lifelong learner, I really wanna try to keep this open mindedness, and continue looking for lessons in the things I read or watch, no matter how much I like or dislike them.